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Social Media May Help Identify College Drinking Problems

Posted Oct 03 2011 4:27pm

College students who post references to getting drunk, blacking out, or other aspects of dangerous drinking on social networking sites are more likely to have clinically significant alcohol problems than students who do not post such references, according to a study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington, Seattle, examined public Facebook profiles of more than 300 undergraduate students at those universities. The researchers divided the profiles into three categories: those that had no alcohol references; those that had alcohol references but no references to intoxication or problem drinking; and those that included references to “being drunk,” “getting wasted,” or other problem drinking behaviors. They also invited the profile owners to complete an online version of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT, a screening tool that clinicians use to measure problem drinking.

"We found that underage college students who referenced dangerous drinking habits, such as intoxication or blacking out, were more likely to have AUDIT scores that indicate problem drinking or alcohol-related injury," says first author Megan A. Moreno, M.D., assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. An AUDIT score of 8 or higher indicates an individual is at risk for problem drinking. The three groups in the study had average AUDIT scores of 4.7, 6.7, and 9.5, respectively.

Dr. Moreno and her colleagues note that, because many students do not seek routine or preventive health care at student health centers, innovative approaches are needed to identify college students who are at risk for problem drinking.

"Underage college students and adolescents frequently display references to alcohol on Facebook," says Dr. Moreno. "Our study suggests that parents and college health care providers who note references to problem drinking on the Facebook profiles of adolescents should consider discussing drinking habits with their children and patients."

"This interesting finding indicates that social networking sites may be a useful tool in the ongoing search for ways to identify and intervene with college students who are at risk for alcohol use problems," adds NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D.

A report of the findings appears online in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the NIH, also provided support for the study.

To interview Dr. Megan Moreno of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, contact Mike Klawitter at 608-265-8199 or mklawitter@uwhealth.org .

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at www.niaaa.nih.gov .

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov .

Reference: Associations Between Displayed Alcohol References on Facebook and Problem Drinking Among College Students Megan A. Moreno, et al. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (October 3, 2011)
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